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Posts Tagged ‘Robin McKinley’

shadowsWhile waiting what seems like forever for Veronica Roth’s Allegiant, the conclusion of the Divergent trilogy due out Oct. 22, I’ve been catching up on other YA offerings. There be magic aplenty.

Robin McKinley, who is known for her retellings of classic fairy tales (Beauty, Spindle’s End) and her original fantasies (The Hero and the Crown, Sunshine) gives a nod to both in the inventive Shadows (Penguin, purchased e-book). “The story starts like some thing out of a fairy tale. I hated my stepfather.” That’s 17-year-old Maggie talking about Val, the short, hairy, badly dressed immigrant from Oldworld her mom married. Actually, Maggie can’t really explain her antipathy to Val, except that she’s unsettled by the weird shadows surrounding him. Magic may still be accepted where Val’s from, but he wasn’t supposed to bring it to Newworld, where science rules and the “magic gene” was erased. So why is it only Maggie sees the shadows? It takes her awhile to figure it out, and McKinley’s story is on a slow burn until “cohesion breaks” threaten the reality of Maggie’s world and family. Her algebra book develops a mind of its own, a good friend undergoes a startling transformation, her border collie refuses to stay home, and the shadows reach out to touch Maggie’s mind and body. As always, McKinley’s a star at world-building, but Maggie’s teen-speak of made-up words like “dreepy” grows tiresome. Still, I’d like a sequel.

dreamthievesThe Dream Thieves (Scholastic, digital galley) is the sequel to Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, and offers even more paranormal thrills as a mythical quest takes a dark turn. In the first book (and you really should read it), small town girl Blue got to know four students from a nearby prep school — Gansey, Ronan, Adam and Noah.  All are still looking for the sleeping Welsh king Owen Glendower, but now that the “ley” lines running through the Virginia area have been opened, their paths diverge. Dark and dangerous Ronan is learning more about his murdered father’s legacy and his ability to retrieve items from dreams. The friendship between privileged Gansey and proud Adam is strained  to the breaking point, a mysterious “Gray Man” is tracking their movements, and Blue’s family of clairvoyants are keeping secrets. Stiefvater easily merges an ordinary world of pizza parlors, street races and summer fireworks with one where time is circular, a forest disappears, and terrifying night creatures descend from the skies. It all makes fabulous sense. Two more books are promised in the Raven cycle.

coldtownYou say you’ve had it with vampires? Then imagine how 17-year-old Tana feels when she passes out at a party and wakes up surrounded by bloody corpses. Someone has left a window open, which is just asking for trouble in Holly Black’s dark and daring The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Little Brown, digital galley). When Tara discovers two more survivors — the glam vampire Gavriel and her ex-boyfriend Aiden, who has been bitten and infected — she decides to try and save them all by going to the nearest Coldtown, a walled city where the government has quarantined the hedonistic bloodsuckers and their deluded followers. But once you go to Coldtown, you can’t come back — at least that’s what Tara, who lost her own mother to vampirism, understands. But perhaps if she embraces her doom, she may yet escape it. Maybe.

hereafterTeenage Rory has yet to accept her fate, much less welcome it, in Kate Brian’s Hereafter (Disney/Hyperion, digital galley), the second in the provocative Shadowlands series. In the first book, Rory and her family were placed in witness protection and relocated to Juniper Island to escape a serial killer. But the picturesque island, with its shifting population, rolling fogs and mysterious bridge, is really a way station for the dead, who will either be moving to the Light or to the Shadowlands. Except for Kate and a group of party-hearty teens. They’re the Lifers who must usher the dead on their designated paths, like it or not. But the weather vane indicates that something has changed in the eternal order. Exactly what remains up in the air as readers await a third book. Think of  this one as a necessary way station.

quarkbeastLet’s lighten up with Jasper Fforde’s The Song of the Quarkbeast (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, purchased e-book), the second installment in the silly-but-clever Chronicles of Kazam. As we learned in the first book, The Last Dragonslayer, pragmatic foundling Jennifer Strange runs a mystical arts management company for workaday wizards in the Ununited Kingdom. The properly certified rewire houses, relocate trees and keep track of creatures like the metal-munching quarkbeast. But now the noxious king is proposing Kazam merge with rival firm iMagic by way of a duel, with the victor taking over the loser company. With the help of her assistant Tiger, Jennifer prepares her team of eccentrics for the challenge. Expect copious wordplay and full-frontal whimsy.

goldendayUrsula Dubosarsky’s dreamy The Golden Day (Candlewick Press, digital galley) is more mystery than fantasy, but magic tinges the writing and the plot. In 1967 Australia, Miss Renshaw takes her class of 11 11-year-old girls to a nearby park to write poems and ponder death. One day, the mysteriously poetic groundskeeper, Morgan, guides Miss Renshaw and the girls to a cave on the beach to look at Aboriginal paintings. The girls, shuffling in the darkness lit only by Morgan’s flashlight, can’t wait to leave. “It was Cynthia who couldn’t wait, wheezing, gasping for breath, who went first, and then the others after her. . .They stumbled along in a line, back the way they had come, crawling out the low tunnel, back to the cave’s mouth, back outside, back to the world they knew.” They wait outside in the sunshine, but Miss Renshaw and Morgan don’t come out. Ever. The girls are then haunted by their teacher’s disappearance in more ways than one. Dubosarsky’s atmospheric tale is haunted by echoes of the classic 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock. I liked it very much.

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Would you jump off a moving train? Climb a crumbling Ferris wheel? Zipline from a skyscraper into the pitch of night?

Me neither. But maybe that’s why I got such a rush reading Veronica Roth’s first YA novel, Divergent. Narrator Beatrice never thought of herself as a physically brave person. After all, in futuristic, dystopian Chicago, she has grown up in the faction Abnegation, devoted to the virtue of selflessness. Four other factions rule the city equally: Candor ( the honest), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent) and Dauntless (the brave).

But every year on an appointed day, all 16-year-olds select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. Most know ahead of time what they’ll choose because they’ve recently taken secret appitude/simulation tests. Beatrice’s results were logged as “inconclusive,” which may be why she finds herself joining Dauntless. First, though, she must survive the rigorous training, hazing and initiation rites. If she fails, she can’t return to Abnegation or transfer factions. No, she will become one of the “factionless,” living in the slums. It’s also entirely possible she could die trying to be Dauntless. Others do.

If Divergent sounds a bit like Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular The Hunger Games trilogy, well, it is. But so is a lot of other dystopian fiction going back over the years. It’s the familiar coming-of-age, hero’s-journey action-adventure tale. I read such novels when I was a teen and I’m still reading them, especially good ones like Divergent.

Roth’s world-building is amazing. The Dauntless leap on and off the still-running El as it thunders through the ruins of the city. The Ferris wheel that trembles at the touch is at abandoned Navy Pier. Fortunately, Tris, as she has renamed herself isn’t afraid of heights, unlike one of her enigmatic instructors known as Four. He seems almost nice to Tris, unlike the sadistic Eric.

Dauntless is not for the faint of heart or spirit. Tris struggles to survive in this truly brave new world, wondering who she can trust among her new “friends,” missing her family, and guarding a secret that could imperil the world as ske knows it. She confronts fears — real and simulated — she never knew she had. And she also begins to question a society built on and divided by its rigid rules and factions.

“He told me once to be brave, and though I have stood still while knives spun toward my face and jumped off a roof, I never thought I would need bravery in the small moments of my life. I do.”

Divergent left me breathless. How soon a sequel?

The sequel to Ally Condie’s recent dystopian novel, Matched, is called Crossed. It will be out in November. In Matched, the Society tells everyone what to do — what to eat, what to read, what pills to swallow, what job to take. Teenagers meet their future perfect mates at a special ceremony where faces appear upon a screen.

Cassia expects to see Xander, and she does, but for a brief instant, she sees the face of another boy, Ky. The Society says it’s just a glitch, but the Society never make mistakes. Or does it? Maybe it also matches people with the wrong careers…

Award-winning fantasy writer Robin McKinley’s last book, Pegasus, also ends on a cliffhanger, which means there better be a sequel. Gorgeously written and imagined, her world is inhabited by two species — humans and the winged creatures knows as the pegasi. Princess Sylvii is bonded to a rare black pegasus, Ebon, on her 12th birthday. While generally the two species can only communicate with the help of magicians, Slyvie and Ebon only need one another. The magicians see these two as a threat to their power and . . .

Ever since the Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece last week decrying the darkness and violence in YA fiction, the blogosphere has been all atwitter. As more than one person has noted, this is not a new complaint (S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders was published some 40 years ago), nor is it relevant. Many of us read adult books by Stephen King and James Bond as teens after cutting our teeth on gruesome Grimm. Vampires have been around for a really long time.

The WSJ writer suggested that teens read Betty Smith’s classic adult novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I think everyone should read this book, one of my all-time favorites that I first read the summer I was 10, and reread every summer thereafter. Brooklyn in the early 20th century was as foreign to me as Narnia, but I sure identified with 10-year-old Francie Nolan, who loved books. As Smith wrote, “The world was hers for the reading.” Other worlds, too. Amen.

Open Book: I bought the e-book version of Veronica Roth’s Divergence (HarperCollins Childrens Books). I received a galley of Ally Conde’s Matched (Penguin Young Readers) as part of of a web promotion. I bought the hardcover of Robin McKinley’s Pegasus (Penguin Group). I’ve just started reading an ARC of Moira Young’s post-apocalyptic YA novel Blood Red Road (Simon & Schuster Teen), which is suitably titled. And at last count, I have three copies of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I’ll loan out the trade paperback, but I want it back. Don’t make me come after you.

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